Back in the Day
When I sold my first short story over 33 years ago, I bought two things: an electronic typewriter and a copy of Merriam-Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (copyright 1983). The Smith-Corona electronic typewriter replaced the JC Penney electric typewriter I’d been using, and when I saw all the marvelous things it could do, I thought I was in writer heaven. I could choose different fonts by changing a wheel. I could delete up to ten words back just by pushing the delete key. I could make corrections without using whiteout or those tricky little correction strips. I could type fast! It was amazing. The dictionary I bought was also top of the line at the time. It listed the year a particular word or phrase came into use as well as having its own Handbook of Style with punctuation and capitalization rules. I felt both the new typewriter and the dictionary were investments in my writing career and a good way to spend half the check. Those were the days.
The typewriter served me well for a number of years and helped me sell quite a few more stories. It held up even when a glass of water got spilled on it. But needless to say, it has since gone on to the place where all outdated machines go. I never cried when computers allowed us to cut and paste and make corrections and move scenes around without having to actually get out the scissors and tape. Yet I sometimes wish I still had a typewriter to address an envelope without involving the printer or to fill out a form.
The dictionary, too, has gone the way of the albatross now that computers can show us the correct spelling of a word (and even correct it) without us having to leave the keyboard. We can look up the meaning of words online as well as Google just about anything to find an answer. But I have kept that Ninth Collegiate, though I can’t say it’s the newest version anymore, and I use it on occasion to look up a spelling or word meaning. As you can see from the photo, it's showing its age, but it still has a place of honor among the research books I own. I know it will serve its purpose when I get around to writing the historical trilogy I have in mind, and I need to make certain a word was in use during that time. In some ways I feel like the old dictionary is a friend who, although coming apart at the seams, still keeps me company and remembers the days when we first started out on this adventure called writing.